Examination of Witnesses (Questions 740-759)
MR CHARLES GEORGE QC and MISS JOANNA CLAYTON.
BIRCHAM DYSON BELL and MR JOHN McGOLDRICK examined
740. My Lords, I leave it this way: that those I
represent I are a public body.They are not a private individual
who has come along seeking the tolling power; they are a public
body. They owe duties in law, they owe duties, financial, accounting
duties which are enforced by the District Auditor. Were they
to spend any toll money on other purposes for ulterior motives
or for functions which fell beyond the scope of the Passenger
Transport Authority or unreasonably and in breach of their fiduciary
duties, they would be answerable, so they operate within a tight
area quite unlike a private body. They are a statutory body acting
within their statutory duties and we would invite your Lordships
to leave the clause as it stands. It has reached that form as
a result of much negotiation. When the Bill started out, there
were a whole number of other clauses. They have been, as it were,
concertinaed into (e) with the very helpful guidance of the Counsel
to the Speaker in the other place. Furthermore, the present format
has commended itself to the Secretary of State and your Lordships
have seen his report. He is satisfied with the Bill as it stands.
It seems to us that to reopen this matter at this stage, when
I do not believe it is a sensible part of the Petition against
us in any way, it is a matter which is adverted to, not a central
matter, would, we believe, be undesirable. At the end of the
day, it must be a matter for your Lordships, but my clear instructions
are that we believe there would be no abuse at all and much to
be said for leaving that provision as it stands today. So far
as fairness is concerned, your Lordships are in the position to
judge what is fair here. We simply commend to your Lordships
this Bill as a fairly modest attempt to bring commonsense to these
tunnels and to ensure that some capacity remains for longer than
would otherwise be the case.
741. Unless there is anything else on which I can
assist your Lordships, that is all I have to say.
742. CHAIRMAN: I have one question but I
will just ask my colleagues if they have any questions for Mr
McGoldrick or for counsel.
743. MR McGOLDRICK: I do not know if I am
permitted, but can I clarify the point on the 1980 Act and the
744. CHAIRMAN: If it is just on that issue,
745. MR McGOLDRICK: Yes, it is just on that.
I think this is a mistake that I have made myself a year ago
in reading it. The County of Merseyside Act 1980, page 121, Revision
of tolls 92, starts off with the procedure that the County Council,
which is now Merseytravel, would go through if they wish to have
a toll increase and basically that is dealt with in paragraphs
(1) to (7) and in paragraph (6) which says:
746. "Before confirming the order, with or
without modifications, the Minister shall, if requested to do
so by the county council, or if any person or body which appears
to the Minister to be sufficiently representative of persons who
have a substantial interest in the use of the tunnel to which
the order apples has objected to the order
747. So, that is the basic provision. That is what
the Department of Transport are quoting in their letter.
748. You then have paragraphs 8 onwards and basically
they relate to a situation which has never happened which is that
not only can the county or Merseytravel ask for revision of the
order but basically we could ask the minister for revision of
the order under paragraph 8(a) and, if we do so, somebody other
than the county or Merseytravel, then the subsection to which
Mr George refers comes into play, which is that if there is only
one objection to what we requested, the minister can hold an inquiry
but if it is the county or Merseytravel that have applied for
the order, then it is subparagraph (6) that applies ---
749. CHAIRMAN: I do not think that we want
to get too hung on this. It is a pretty narrow point. It is
not germane in the overall scheme of things. Mr George, unless
you are desperately tempted, can we leave this point?
750. MR GEORGE: I am not. I am going to
say that Mr McGoldrick may have a point. It does not matter.
It is a cumbrous procedure but if a group of people, particularly
for instance a body here, this group, were sufficient to compel,
even if they were a small group, an inquiry to be held, that would
be enough, so I do not take the matter any further. It may be
it depends on the status of the application that it is sufficient,
but it is a very cumbrous procedure which involves long delays
as evidenced by what happened on this particular proposal.
751. CHAIRMAN: Mr George, I said that I
had one question for you. You may or may not want to refer to
your witnesses on this. There has been frequent reference and
comparisons made with both the Severn crossing and the Dartford
crossing. We heard Mr Kendall say he thought that was irrelevant,
that is the word he used about Dartford. Leaving that on one
side, can you tell the Committee purely factually firstly until
such time as the Dartford toll, dare I say, is renewed - that
is not a correct word but we know what it means - were the moneys
received from the toll for the Dartford tunnels and bridge used
for any other purposes other than to repay the debt? My question
is similar for the new Severn Bridge except it is still extant
whereas the Dartford crossing has now moved on a bit.
752. MR GEORGE: I think I can answer. So
far as Dartford, the bridge of course was built, as I recollect
it, under a PFI-type concession. Therefore, the point which Lord
Bradshaw was making this morning comes in and one has to remember
that an element was going on the profit margin of the PFI element.
So, if I feed that in, I think thereafter the answer is that
the breakthrough was the Transport Act 2000 with the decision
that, instead of just passing legislation to reduce the numbers
of vehicles and traffic reduction legislation which has not been
very effective, one should have new positive measures which would
involve payments by motorists which should be spent on public
753. CHAIRMAN: I am sorry, that was not
my question. My question was, before the passing of that Act,
what were the toll moneys used for?
754. MR GEORGE: My Lord, I hope I had acknowledged
that. Until the passing of that Act, the tolls had only been
used for operations, refurbishment, paying off of the debt. Then
I was coming on to say that Parliament passes legislation in 2000
and that legislation is then the source of the order made in respect
of Dartford, to which I referred your Lordships, which was specifically
made under that Act and, as the Secretary of State pointed out
in his report on this Bill, he felt that the 2000 Act had created
the parliamentary precedent which justified Merseytravel in applying
a similar procedure here in Merseytravel. I hope that makes it
clear. Your Lordship is entirely right. Up to 2000, there is
no precedent for it. The 2000 Act comes and, following the 2000
Act, one has the same thing being done under a different lot of
legislation in Scotland under what is I think is the Scottish
Transport Act 2000, its equivalent, so that both north and south
of the border, you have this concept that some motorists may be
charged sums which are hypothecated to public transport. That
is new from 2000 and I respectfully suggest that is going to be
the pattern for the future. Plainly, it is the pattern which
the Secretary of State is likely to follow under his powers under
the 2000 Act but we of course are not under that Act. The Scottish
Act, I am informed, is the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 which
is in rather similar terms to the 2000 Act.
755. CHAIRMAN: Mr George, you may not know
the answer to this question but to what extent was the debt on
the Dartford bridge expunged by the year 2000?
756. MR GEORGE: It actually came to an end
in 2000. It was a debt that was nearing its end. It came to
an end in 2002 and your Lordships have the consultation document
because the Department was aware that they were doing something
controversial in the case of Dartford when they put forward the
proposal to have the hypothecation and not to reduce the toll
and that was at the moment the concession had ended and the concession
has ended because the concessionaire had got his money back effectively.
He built the bridge, he got his money back and that was the position
which many people, north and south, expected that tolls would
go and there were those complaints of broken promises.
757. CHAIRMAN: I do not want to pursue this
too long but what is the position regarding the Severn bridge?
758. MR GEORGE: So far as the Severn bridge,
at present it is out on its concession. That is the one that is
to run and we were given by Mr McGoldrick how much longer it has
this morning. I think it was about 2012/13.
759. CHAIRMAN: The point of my question
is, to what extent, if at all, is the 2000 Act biting regarding
the Severn bridge?